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Sexual assault costly, both emotionally and economically, new University of Iowa report says

More than 55,000 Iowans experienced sexual violence in 2009

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Out of nowhere, at a party during her senior year in high school, Anja Sivertson became one of the “ones.”

One in six women and one in 10 men have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime, according to the Rape Victim Advocacy Program in Johnson County, and Sivertson said she believes that statistic after becoming a part of it.

“When I started talking about it honestly, I found out so many of my close friends had similar experiences and thought it was completely normal,” said the 21-year-old University of Iowa junior who gave The Gazette permission to use her name in this story. “They just thought it was their fault because they had been drinking too much or something.”

A new report from the Injury Prevention Research Center in the University of Iowa College of Public Health reports that one in 35 Iowa women ages 18 to 44 will experience sexual violence this year. More than 55,000 Iowans experienced sexual violence in 2009, and one in 10 were under age 18, according to the report also compiled by the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

The report, “Costs of Sexual Violence in Iowa (2009),” not only tracked the incidents of sexual violence in Iowa, but it also analyzed the direct and indirect costs of sexual violence in the state. In 2009, according to the report, sexual violence cost Iowans $5.8 billion, or about $1,875 per person.

Those costs included more than $300 million for things like medical care, victim’s services and adjudication, according to the report. About $101 million in government money was spent in 2009 as a result of sexual violence – 55 percent was spent on people who committed the offenses and more than 44 percent went to sexual assault victims, the report shows.

Meanwhile, less than 1 percent of state and federal funds are spent on efforts to prevent sexual violence, according to Corinne Peek-Asa, director of the UI’s Injury Prevention Research Center and professor of occupational and environmental health.

“When talking about sexual violence, we have to take into account part of the costs of STDs, pregnancy, suicidal acts, and substance abuse, in addition to lost work, property damage and other indirect costs more commonly associated with these acts,” Peek-Asa said in a news release.

On Thursday, the same day the new report was released, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program teamed up with the UI for the “Clothesline Project,” which displayed on campus rows of T-shirts decorated by victims of sexual assault and other acts of violence.

“I have survived, year after year,” one person wrote on a shirt. Another victim wrote, “13 years old, I never called it rape.”

Susan Junis, education coordinator for RVAP, said the primary impact of sexual assault is the emotional toll it takes on victims, but she said there are definitely corollary costs – not being able to work or attend class, for example, and missing out on wages or earning potential.

“We hope the emotional impact will be most important to people,” Junis said. “But some people understand numbers better, and that direct impact of cost can be really eye-opening.”

Sivertson said that after she was assaulted, she went to the hospital, had a rape examination and has received medication and counseling services. So far, Sivertson said, she has declined to press charges because of what that might put her through emotionally.

“But my clothes are still sitting in a bag at the hospital,” she said. “They’ve been there for years.”

Sivertson said she understands that sexual violence can be a financial burden on victims and taxpayers, but the emotional weight has been much heavier for her.

“What he did to me affected every day of my life,” she said.

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